The Ravens survived another fourth-quarter scare to hold off the Cleveland Browns in Week 7. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a humiliating 21-3 defeat to the Carolina Panthers, leaving the team in a “dark place,” in coach Todd Bowles’ words. Which of these waffling would-be contenders will have the advantage when they match up Thursday night?
Ravens passing game vs. Buccaneers pass defense
The Ravens largely kept their passing attack in the holster against the Browns as Lamar Jackson attempted just 16 passes and threw for 120 yards, his lowest total since the last game of the 2020 season. No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman returned after missing two games because of a foot sprain and made an immediate impact with a team-high four catches on five targets. Tight end Mark Andrews, who missed two practices last week, went without a catch for the first time since his rookie season. The Ravens also need to do more to get the ball to Devin Duvernay, who caught two of the three passes thrown his way for 42 yards. Might this be the week we see wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who signed to the team’s practice squad last week but was not called up to face the Browns? Jackson’s passing production took a notable dip after Week 3 and has not rebounded. He has struggled to punish pressure but has also failed to find open receivers when he has ample time to throw. He will try to regain his form against one of the league’s best pass defenses.
The Buccaneers blitz on 27.8% of drop backs and rank 11th in pressure percentage, according to Pro-Football Reference. Cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. are standouts, though Winfield was in concussion protocol Monday, and Bowles said he’s unlikely to play against the Ravens. Lavonte David is one of the league’s top all-around linebackers. Defensive tackle Vita Vea is a menace rushing from the inside. Baltimore native Shaquil Barrett is a formidable edge rusher. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt against Tampa Bay.
Buccaneers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
At age 45, Tom Brady is still an accurate passer who makes some terrific throws outside the numbers and avoids turnovers, but he’s not consistently punishing opponents downfield. The Buccaneers rank 16th in yards per attempt after ranking fifth in 2021, and they’re 26th in third-down efficiency after ranking second in 2021. Those numbers help explain why a Brady-led team is averaging a shocking 17.7 points per game. Wide receiver Mike Evans (33 catches, 453 yards, three touchdowns) is Brady’s most productive target while his running mate, Chris Godwin, is averaging a career-low 10.1 yards per catch. Brady frequently checks down to running back Leonard Fournette, who leads the Buccaneers with 34 catches on 39 targets, three of those for touchdowns. Tampa Bay has not found a suitable replacement for retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, though Brady will spread the ball around to Cameron Brate and Cade Otton. The Buccaneers have solid pass blockers in guard Shaq Mason and tackles Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith, and Brady gets rid of the ball quicker than any quarterback in the league. So the Ravens probably will not roll up five sacks as they did against the Browns.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston made a welcome return from the groin injury that cost him three games with two sacks and a forced fumble on just 16 snaps. Brady might not test the Ravens on the back end, but he will test the depth of their secondary by throwing to many different targets. Safety Geno Stone has played well filling in for injured Marcus Williams, but the Ravens will also need good work from cornerbacks Damarion “Pepe” Williams and Brandon Stephens and safety Kyle Hamilton. After a rough start, the Ravens rank eighth in pass-defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, so they’re trending in the right direction.
Ravens running game vs. Buccaneers run defense
The Ravens ran 44 times on 63 offensive plays against the Browns, choosing to grind out a win behind the power running of Gus Edwards (16 carries, 66 yards, two touchdowns), who played for the first time since January 2021. Kenyan Drake (11 carries, 5 yards) could not find any room on the outside against the Browns after he produced a big game the week before against the New York Giants. Justice Hill ran well in his return from the hamstring injury that cost him two games, but he fumbled to end a likely scoring drive at a key juncture of the fourth quarter. Jackson remains the ace in the hole, leading the Ravens with 510 rushing yards. While the team averaged 3.6 yards per carry against Cleveland, he averaged 5.9.
The Buccaneers gave up 173 rushing yards in their loss to the Panthers and 189 in their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, so this could be another game the Ravens attempt to control on the ground. Middle linebacker Devin White has graded terribly against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, and Vea, the team’s top interior defender, makes more impact as a pass rusher than as a run stuffer.
Buccaneers running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Buccaneers don’t bother much with the run, ranking 31st in attempts and 32nd in rushing yards per game. Fournette, who averages 3.5 yards per carry, is their only significant ground threat, and he’s no Nick Chubb or Saquon Barkley.
The Ravens have played the pass better than the run this season, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes do not always take the best angles or bring down ball carriers with one hit. But Tampa Bay seems unlikely to exploit this relative weakness.
Ravens special teams vs. Buccaneers special teams
The Ravens beat the Browns thanks to a dominant special teams performance. Justin Tucker made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter. Punter Jordan Stout played his best game as a pro. Duvernay returned a punt 46 yards to set up a field goal in the second quarter. Linebacker Malik Harrison’s field-goal block clinched the game. They rank first in special-teams DVOA by a mile, and we saw why.
The Buccaneers rank 24th in special-teams DVOA. Kicker Ryan Succop has made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts, so he hasn’t been the problem. But opponents have averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return, and Tampa Bay has not answered with big plays from its return game.
Ravens intangibles vs. Buccaneers intangibles
The Ravens seem to make life difficult for themselves every week, but at least they had a chance to exhale after holding on against the Browns. For all their ups and downs, they lead the AFC North and will face just one team with a current winning record over their last 10 games. The Buccaneers, on the other hand, came out of their loss to the Panthers sounding like a team in crisis. Brady has always defied those who would bury him prematurely, and the Buccaneers are just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl win. So it’s too early to cross them off.
Can Tom Brady pick the Ravens apart with quick throws? Can the Ravens pound the Buccaneers with another run-first game plan? Neither team has reached peak form through the first seven weeks, but the Buccaneers have struggled against lesser competition and have lost twice at home. The Ravens will exploit Tampa Bay’s disadvantages on special teams and in the power game to grind out another narrow victory. Ravens 26, Buccaneers 22